It's a question not as commonly addressed, but one that researchers from the University of British Columbia set out to answer. They found that elementary school students who learned how to be mindful were better at regulating stress, more optimistic and helpful, better liked by their peers, and performed better in math.
For the study, which was published this month in the journal Developmental Psychology, researchers from a variety of disciplines tested the effects of giving lessons to fourth and fifth graders in mindfulness, where they were guided to intentionally focus on the present — while avoiding making judgments — through a series of breathing, tasting, and movement exercises. The program, developed by Goldie Hawn's foundation, is called MindUP.
The researchers randomly placed about 100 fourth and fifth grade public school students from British Columbia into one of two groups. The first received four months of the mindfulness program, while the second got four months of a "social responsibility" program that's already been implemented in Canadian public schools.
In order to accurately measure MindUP's effect on stress, the researchers collected saliva from the children to analyze their cortisol levels, which is a stress indicator. They also used peer and self-reporting and measured the kids' cognitive abilities and testing skills, like memory, concentration, and focus, according to the press release.
Compared to those in the social responsibility program, children who experienced the mindful intervention significantly outperformed their peers in math scores, cognitive control, stress levels, emotional control, optimism, empathy, mindfulness, and aggression.
More research is needed, as usual, but their findings are encouraging. "Doing these kinds of programs in school does not take away from academics," Schonert-Reichl told TIME. "It adds to a growing research literature that's showing, actually, these kinds of programs and practices increase academic gains. By adding this on, you not only create more academically capable, successful students, but actually create more caring, less stressed, kind students."